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First Federal Leaders Look for Growth

2 min read

MOUNTAIN HOME – New leadership at First Federal Bancshares of Arkansas Inc. intends to grow the operation while working through a backlog of inherited, troubled assets, shareholders were told at Tuesday’s annual meeting.

"We’re going to have to be bigger," said Rick Massey, chairman of the board and managing member of Bear State Financial Holdings LLC of Little Rock. "Critical mass is $1.5 billion in assets. Banks will have to grow or get squeezed out."

Total assets at the Harrison thrift stood at $573 million at the end of the first quarter when the company reported a $192,000 profit. That compares to a $1.5 million loss during the first quarter 2011.

"We’re pretty optimistic about the future," Massey said. "We thought we would experience worse losses."

A year ago, Bear State investors stabilized First Federal’s balance sheet with $40.3 million cash, amassed an 81.5 percent stake in the company, shed $16.5 million in TARP obligations and installed a new executive management team.

Dabbs Cavin, president and CEO since Bear State entered the ownership picture, said the bank is focused on continuing to improve profitability and asset quality and getting free of an April 2010 cease-and-desist order issued by federal regulators.

"Now it’s time for us to keep executing, get out from under the order and take advantage of the opportunities before us," Cavin said.

Massey and Cavin made the observations while fielding questions from shareholders at the annual meeting held in Mountain Home.

"If you’re not happy, I’m not happy," Massey said. "We’re all about being happy."

With 98.3 percent of the shares voting, eight director nominees were elected and the appointment of BKD LLP of Springfield, Mo., as the company’s independent registered public accounting firm for 2012 was ratified.

Brock Gearhart, 30, vice president of the Fayetteville investment advisory firm of Greenwood Gearhart Inc., was the only new nominee to join the board of directors.

He joins seven holdovers from the 2011 board: Massey, 56, chairman, and managing member of Bear State; Cavin, 47, president and CEO; Aaron Clark, 30, vice president of The Stephens Group LLC of Little Rock; Frank Conner, 62, former vice president and CFO of FedEx Freight East of Harrison; Scott Ford, 49, partner in Westrock Capital Partners LLC of Little Rock and former CEO of Alltel Corp.; former U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt, 89; and Fitzgerald Hill, 48, president of Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock.

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